| 14.6°C Belfast

Smaller parties issue call for all-Ireland focus against coronavirus

Close

The SDLP’s Colum Eastwood

The SDLP’s Colum Eastwood

Steve Aiken of the UUP

Steve Aiken of the UUP

PA

The SDLP’s Colum Eastwood

Cross-border co-operation in the battle against coronavirus was top of the agenda for the Executive parties meeting the new Taoiseach yesterday.

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood called the restoration of the Irish Government "an unmissable opportunity" to face the pandemic crisis, as well as push forward on infrastructure projects.

"More than ever, we need closer cooperation between north and south," he said. "The coordination of the coronavirus response to date has not been adequate and it needs to improve if we're to keep people and communities safe. A key part of that should be harmonising our approach to international travel.

"We've had useful discussions about that today. And we've had further discussions about the need for an all island recovery plan that invests in infrastructure projects and skills in those communities that have been left behind."

Mr Eastwood cited the promise of projects like the Narrow Water Bridge and expanding university provision in the North West.

"The scale of the challenge is stark but we have a chance to fundamentally reshape the lives of people in communities across Ireland.

"That's a critical objective of the partnership between the SDLP and Fianna Fail. With both parties now in government, we have an opportunity to deliver."

Ulster Unionist leader Steve Aiken said there was firm agreement on working to prevent a second wave of the pandemic.

"The thing we've discussed with the Taoiseach is the importance of doing what's best, to make sure we follow the right scientific advice," he said.

"Covid hasn't gone away and there are real concerns now about what happens if it comes back in the autumn and how we get not just an all-Ireland, but an all-island approach to this problem."

Asked for the Taoiseach's specific response to criticism over Sinn Fein leaders attending Bobby Storey's funeral in Belfast, he said the anger shown by political parties in Northern Ireland "was probably mirrored" across Ireland and beyond.

Alliance deputy leader Stephen Farry said he discussed the shared challenges of Covid-19, and navigating the Brexit transition period without a free trade agreement in place.

"Ultimately, the meeting was an opportunity to explore his vision and commitment to a shared Ireland," he said.

"There is a fluid situation across these islands at present. The Good Friday Agreement must remain the cornerstone of how relations are facilitated - there are huge opportunities to further develop north-south cooperation and to enhance the all-island economy. Such pragmatic engagement should not threaten any political or constitutional perspective.

Welcoming the return of the North-South Ministerial Council, he added: "Much of the engagement can be advanced by government agencies, businesses, civil society and others, and clear opportunities lie around healthcare, infrastructure, energy, research and criminal justice."

Belfast Telegraph